Jonathan Edwards and Personal Holiness Part 2: The Legacy of the Puritans and Solomon Stoddard
In Part 1 of this series on Jonathan Edwards and Personal Holiness, I posted that the decisive reason for Edward’s personal holiness was his forward thinking of heaven and enjoying the person of Christ. In this second part, I would like to look at two major influences into Edward’s life that help stir this personal holiness of his.
- The Puritans – B. B. Warfield said this of Edwards, “He fed himself on the great Puritan divines, and formed not merely his thought but his life upon them.” With the life and mind of Edwards being what it was, Warfield’s statement is quite a claim. Yet, when Edward’s “Catalogue” (a list of books forty three pages long he either read or planned on reading) is looked at, this certainly seems true. Edward’s reading list included authors such Calvin, Perkins, Van Mastricht, Sibbes, and John Owen. John Owen was one of significance for Edwards, agreeing with Thomas Halyburton’s statement that John Owen’s writings were “above all human writings for a true view of the Mystery of the Gospel.” While Owen was not the natural philosopher that Edwards was, Owen did seem to have quite an impact on the themes that Edwards wrote on. They shared similar passions for the glory of Christ and his supremacy in all things in their volumes. However, all of the Puritans seemed to have an enduring affect on Edwards, even when Puritanism was passé in 18th century New England. When spiritual and doctrinal purity along with a right understanding of the depraved mind of man was scarce in New England, Edwards saw to it that he would not be primarily affected by his times, but by men a hundred years before him. Faithfulness to the biblical preaching of the Puritans, Edwards thought, would bring revival to New England and it most certainly did in the The Great Awakening.
- Solomon Stoddard – Solomon Stoddard was Edward’s grandfather, who he would assist and finally replace as pastor in Northampton. Stoddard, I think, gets looked over as a major influence on Jonathan Edwards. He is primarily the figure that created the Lord’s Supper controversy that eventually gets Edwards fired as pastor later in life. But this is not all that Stoddard did to the life of Edwards. Edwards himself admire his grandfather writing, “Many looked on him almost as a sort of deity.” That was not a scoff at the stupidity of those who adored Stoddard, but a statement of amazement in the affect he has on his people. Stoddard preached with vigor and lived in purity. He believed with earnest that the pastor’s purity has a profound effect on his congregation. He preached in his sermon The Defects of Preachers Reproved about the importance of powerful preaching and piety of the pastor, “a great want of good preaching whence it comes to pass, that among professors a spirit of piety runs exceedingly low.” Stoddard was known for his piety and powerful preaching. He was known to have been “favoured with a more than ordinary presence of God in his work.” Iain Murray writes a short account of when “a Frenchman was taking aim at Stoddard when an Indian beside him, who had previously been among the English, intervened warning him not to fire because ‘that was Englishman’s God.’ Obviously, the Indian’s understanding was exaggerated, but it shows Stoddard’s apparent influence in his community. His influence on his family is tremendous as well. One out of his two sons became a pastor, and all five of his daughters married pastors, many of whom had sons who would become pastors (including Edwards). Edwards writes of his grandfather, “My grandfather was a very great man, of strong powers of mind, of great grace and authority, of a masterly countenance, speech, and behavior.”
The obvious lesson that comes from these influences of Edwards is the power of reading great men who have gone and labored before us and the powerful nature of a family legacy. Pastors, worship leaders, Sunday school teachers, and even parents should read the Puritans. The Puritans have an understanding of the supremacy of Christ, holiness, and the fight against sin that is almost silent in the sermons and books of today. Parents could start by reading The Valley of Vision (a devotion of Puritan prayers) or read The Pilgrims Progress to yourself or your children. A great book for anybody to read in understanding the thought of the Puritans is A Quest for Godliness by J. I. Packer. We should also recognize that our own legacy on our family can be positive or negative. May we, by the grace of God, live in such a way that leaves a line of men and women who serve God, whether in ministry, or at home, or in the workplace, or in other nations, for the spreading of gospel to all people.